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37. What does the Bible really teach about Eternal Punishment?
Three views predominate theological perspectives regarding the fate of those dying outside of Christ. One view suggests that when an individual dies unsaved, they are immediately extinguished. Hell is eternal because it represents an eternal cessation of existence from which there can be no return. This view if often referred to as the Annihilationist View.
A second view, which is similar with significant variations is called the Conditional Immortality View. Views one and two could be referred to with either term. This view, however, suggests that all should die (cease to exist) except on the condition of one's salvation. A variation often seen here, though, is the concept that the wicked should suffer for a time prior to extinction. The depth of their depravity determines the length and severity of their punishment. After suffering for as long as God determines, they cease to exist.
The traditional view suggests that all men live forever -- some in glory, some in eternal punishing. This view derives from biblical statements such as: "Where the soul does not die." "They go into everlasting punishment." It is heightened by Jesus' word pictures of Hell as a place of constant suffering. Jesus uses the term Gehenna, a term referring to Jerusalem's garbage dump where fires burned constantly and the stench was horrible.
Some traditionalists believe God bestows rewards on the righteous. Those saved by Jesus' blood enjoy God's companionship for eternity, but some receive greater rewards because of their greater faith as demonstrated in their works. These same traditionalists also believe the wicked receive greater or lesser punishments for their acts in the flesh. Jesus said that some would be beaten with many stripes while some would be beaten with few. Those opting for the first two views often charge that God could not be a loving God and allow such punishment to last for eternity. Several statements must be made here. First, God's ultimate characteristic is not love; it is holiness. God's holiness demands justice. Justice means "getting what you deserve." Those who reject Jesus Christ are judged according to their obedience to law (works) and they all fail (Rom. 3:23) and the only punishment for sin is death (separation from God). Second, God did not create Hell for humans. God created "the pit" for Satan and his angels. Those who choose to follow Satan, however, receive Satan's punishment. Third, we do not know the exact nature of Hell. The Bible uses several word pictures to portray Hell. It pictures Hell as a place of burning, the smoldering of a garbage dumb, outer darkness, a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I have difficulty picturing a place where fires are burning and it is dark. I'm not saying it isn't possible. I'm saying that we really don't know what it will be like. C.S. Lewis pictured it in the stark grayness of industrial age slums in London. The one thing we do know is this: Hell is where God is not! I can't think of any punishment worse than spending eternity where God is not realizing it could have been different. Now that's hell!
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